Posts by Rob Davidson
We need Climate Freedom, NOW
Mon May 17 2021
As a child of the 80's, the environment was constantly on my mind. We had the hole in the Ozone Layer, letting in the sun's rays and giving people cancer. As a Cub Scout, I helped manually crush drinks cans for the apparently new concept of recycling. There was the growing Greenhouse Effect, of course, and in fevered dreams I imagined a mushroom cloud bloom over Chernobyl. Between the Cold War and Climate Change, youthful thoughts about the future were sometimes bleak to say the least.
For the youth of today, things are far worse. Ignore for a moment the looming Cold War with China, Russia and a new wave of 'illiberal democracies' and take a look at the environment. What we once called Global Warming and then called Climate Change is now the Climate Emergency.
School children and other young people are showing signs of 'climate anxiety'. Mental health is suffering because of this crisis. There is some evidence that climate scientists are suffering from 'despair' and feelings of 'hopelessness' and that, surely, cannot be a good sign.Read More
Patriotism is Liberal, Johnson's nationalism is not
Thu May 13 2021
Since Brexiters told the country to BeLEAVE in Britain there has been a strong line on a particular type of patriotism in British politics. Boris Johnson has exemplified this as Prime Minister and Labour, in desperation to win back the 'Red Wall' constituencies, has attempted to 'embrace the flag' and to match Johnson's brand of patriotism. Liberals on the other hand are known for internationalism, welcoming migrants and eschewing borders in a bid to find a way to connect and work with our fellow man/woman no matter where they were born. But, does that mean Liberals can't be patriots?
At its heart, patriotism stems from a shared experience, shared values and shared priorities that we naturally develop when we grow up together, work alongside each other and live, love and die together. It's the stuff of trades unions, co-operatives and ... Liberalism.Read More
The timing could not have been more aggressive. Derek Chauvin's trial for the murder of George Floyd started and, on the same day, the UK Government press-released the findings of its report into institutional racism: an investigation that had been sparked by the murder and ensuing civil liberties movement. The released findings were incendiary- Britain was free from institutional racism and race was not such an important issue anymore.
And then the controversy grew deeper.Read More
COVID: our big test is what happens next
Fri Apr 09 2021
Can you imagine it? The cold beer brought to you in a tall glass so chilled there is condensation thick on the outside, obscuring the golden, frothy, elixir you've been waiting for. A hot sunny day, you are sticky but relaxed and it is the waiting staff that buzz around toiling. And the sound of people laughing and conversing, in groups (!), at tables all around you... and your friend leans in to deliver the punchline of a joke. Your whole table bursts into laughter.
These days may be near upon us. From 12th April, we can meet in pub gardens in groups of up to 6 people. There is light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel.
The story of the COVID vaccine is one of human triumph, a scientific work that may rival trips to the moon, if I may be so bold. When faced with a global pandemic, humanity was able to produce not one but several cures in less than a year. Our returning rights and freedoms have come from this great feat of bioscience, chemistry and logistics.Read More
Emerging economies, disappearing freedoms
Thu Mar 18 2021
It's common, perhaps, to look to the future and get a sense that things are getting worse. How many cliches do we have for that slippery slope? They weren't like that in my day, it's a dangerous road, it's all going to hell in a hand cart, the end is nigh! But when it comes to global trade and global power, our fears are being validated.
Dominic Raab, the UK's Foreign Secretary, was recently recorded as saying, "If we restrict [our trade deals] to countries with [decent] standards of human rights, we’re not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future." This has caused outrage amongst human rights campaigners and Liberals and with good reason but, fundamentally, he is correct: tomorrow's big economies are all human rights abusers.Read More
Are the Tories dishing out "vaccines for votes?"
Thu Mar 04 2021
Tory-held constituencies have received more Covid vaccination jabs than others according to the Times this week. There are a lot of factors to unpick (such as which demographics have more 'vaccine hesitancy', or which seats have elderly or high priority residents), but the Tories have been constantly embroiled in scandal and outright 'illegality' since Johnson took the helm - and at least some of that has been linked to wooing voters. Patterns may now be emerging of another scandal.
The Times reports that "86 per cent of over-80s living in Tory-held seats have been vaccinated compared with 79 per cent living in Labour areas." They also say that there is no suggestion this is politically motivated but are they just treading softly?Read More
ARIA watching closely?
Wed Feb 24 2021
The government has recently confirmed that its 'high risk, high reward' research agency, the Advanced Research and Innovation Agency (ARIA), will go ahead. This was initially the pet project of Dominic Cummings (alarm bells!) but seems to have survived his departure from Whitehall. The buzz has all been about the potential to cut red-tape and bureaucracy in order to unleash scientific innovation. For a scientist and science fiction nerd like myself, it sounds quite exciting but, Liberals should be wary of anything that reduces oversight and accountability - especially from this government.
The full details of how the agency will work haven't been made clear yet but as the idea is copied direct from DARPA, a US Defence research agency, we can get a sense of where it's going.Read More
Liberals: march towards the sound of gunfire
Sun Feb 21 2021
The Tories have just announced a new "free speech champion" and have set new demands on student unions to guarantee a platform to any visiting speaker. Layla Moran, calling this out as a distraction on Question Time, was immediately attacked by the libertarian press (see Spiked Online's take) as "proof" that Liberals aren't truly Liberal. The attack was so swift and loud that Lib Dem HQ deleted their tweet of the clip, much to the glee of right-wing blogs.
It's a shame to see Liberals running from a fight (even if the phrasing was a little clumsy). There is a war going on and, although it's been called a culture war (or a 'war on woke'), it's actually a fight to redefine Liberalism along simplistic, libertarian lines. Liberals must not shy away from it any longer.Read More
Polls can't predict this, yet
Wed Jan 20 2021
Last week, a 'big poll' predicted that the Liberal Democrats would lose almost all of their seats at the next General Election. This caused quite a stir on social media. Liberals love to bash their own team and polling results are a regular self-flagellation. But while polls can be very accurate near an election, there are good reasons why we shouldn't fret over them 3 years out - and a clear task for us to focus on instead.Read More
Brexit is finally upon us, what next for Remainers?
Sat Dec 05 2020
It’s been said before but now, surely and finally, we are only days away from Brexit. The UK ended its EU membership at the start of 2020, but within the next 4 weeks it will have left the building at last. So, what next for the army of ‘Remainers’ that mobilised in unprecedented numbers to oppose the Conservative Party’s defining, winning yet destructive policy?
Negotiations are on-going but the outcome is far from certain - and whatever is agreed is guaranteed to fall short of what was promised. Regardless, Brexit will be 'completed' within the month - whether we like it or not.Read More
Is Scottish Independence now Liberal?
Fri Nov 20 2020
Support for Scottish independence is growing off the back of Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit and Covid. Liberals have been pro-devolution but anti-independence for fairly Liberal reasons to date, but has Brexit changed all of that? Is Scottish independence now more Liberal than British unionism?Read More
There’s a buzz amongst Liberals and lefties of all types: Citizens Assemblies can fix our broken democracy. Green activists think an assembly will help stop Climate Change; the exciting, rebooted Social Liberal Forum wants a “Citizens Britain” with Citizens Assemblies built in to our future democracy. So-called ‘deliberative democracy’ is seen as a solution to the manipulated elections and referendums of recent years. But will Citizens Assemblies improve democracy or will they simply arm populists and ‘illiberal democrats’ with yet another opportunity for manipulation and control?Read More
All change at Lib Dem HQ
Wed Oct 28 2020
Mo’ elections, mo’ problems. This could be the Liberal Democrat motto after a decade of poor performances including three general elections and a referendum in five years. There is a strong need for change somewhere but after a decade of election reviews and no apparent improvement, you’d be forgiven for thinking change is something Lib Dems don’t grasp. And yet, all the signs are there that change is happening, at Lib Dem HQ at least.Read More
Don’t shoot the data scientist, please Labour
Wed Sep 09 2020
Government incompetence and u-turns over high school results have perhaps dominated this summer’s news cycle, which is no mean feat given the global pandemic, record-busting recession and looming Brexit crisis. The story has hinged upon an ‘algorithm’ or, to quote the Prime Minister, a ‘mutant algorithm.’ Sadly, our cousins over at Scientists for Labour have picked up on this theme too – blaming science and algorithms for political mistakes.
In a recent blog post, Scientists for Labour highlighted how the algorithm worked (quite useful if you don’t want to read 319 pages of Ofqual verbiage) and correctly highlighted how the full processing pipeline applies a sort of smoothing to past performance and is inherently biased in favour of small class sizes at pay-for schools (public/private, you choose your lingo.)Read More
Algorithms don’t fail people, people do
Fri Aug 21 2020
The inequality in this year’s A-level results has been strongly linked to the performance of an algorithm – the statistical model that the government used to ‘automatically’ upgrade or downgrade results for pupils. While ministers will be called to question, for many it will be the cold, faceless, automated algorithm that is seen as the problem. We, as liberals, must be clear: the A-level disaster is not a programming error; algorithms merely reflect or even enhance the bias of their designers.
The Labour Party has said the A-level algorithm was ‘unlawful’, the FT has described how ‘the algorithm went wrong’ and clearly the process had massively unfair outcomes. Yet, this wasn’t data science gone rogue like Terminator’s Skynet or the ineffable AI in Ex Machina: this was a political choice reflecting political biases.Read More